Question: The news from Ukraine seems more and more worrying, is this really the time for France to be holding an election?
The French government says that it won’t come to this. Emmanuel Macron in his letter to the French people said it was important to continue with the country’s democracy, while acknowledging that his campaigning time will be limited by the crisis. Government spokesman Gabriel Attal has also assured reporters that Macron will be taking part in the traditional televised candidates’ debates.
But would it be legally possible to move the election, as dates for local elections were moved during the pandemic?
The French constitution is clear on this point, Article 6 stipulates that the Head of State must be “elected for five years by direct universal suffrage”.
Meanwhile Article 7 stipulates that the election must take place “at least twenty days and at most thirty-five days before the expiry of the powers of the incumbent president”.
This is to allow time for an orderly handover of power.
Macron’s current term expires on May 13th, so theoretically voting could be pushed back.
However, French presidential elections take place over two rounds of voting which must be two weeks apart, with polling day taking place by tradition on a Sunday, as it is judged to be the day when the French are most at liberty to go and vote.
The current polling dates are April 10th and 24th. These could be moved back to April 17th and May 1st, but it’s hard to see what would be the advantage of moving polling dates by just one week.
Olivier Dord, professor of public law at the University of Paris-Nanterre, told France Info that “in the situation of the war in Ukraine, which is likely to last, it is difficult to see what use such a postponement would be”.
Moving polling day any later than April 17th/May 1st would require a change in the constitution, or a suspension of the constitution, which only happens in extremely dramatic moments in France’s history.
When it comes to local elections there is a lot more flexibility, since these are fixed by local decrees and laws rather than set down in the constitution. During the pandemic, the second round of municipal elections in 2020 were postponed from March – when the country was in lockdown – to the summer, and 2021 regional elections were also postponed.